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Newsom backs reprieve for Diablo Canyon nuclear plant to protect grid

Gov. Gavin Newsom issued last-minute draft legislation to extend the life of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant through 2035, a once-unthinkable step opposed by environmentalists, in an effort to protect a grid threatened by extreme heat.

Newsom asked lawmakers late last week to extend Diablo’s operations for a decade beyond its planned shutdown date of 2025 and to approve a $1.4 billion loan to the plant’s owner, Pacific Gas & Electric Co., or PG&E.

“In the face of extreme heat, wildfires, and other extreme events that strain our current electrical system, the state is focused on maintaining energy reliability while accelerating efforts to combat climate change,” Newsom’s office said in an email Monday.


Diablo, on the coast in San Luis Obispo County, is a major source of power in the state, supplying roughly 17% of California’s greenhouse-gas-free electricity supply and 8.6% of the state’s total electricity.

Efforts to keep the nuclear power plant open come as California battles extreme heat, wildfires, and other events that have strained the state’s electric grid.

Newsom’s office described the effort Monday as a limited-term bid to help ensure grid reliability for California.

Diablo “continues to be an important resource as we transition away from fossil fuel generation to greater amounts of clean energy, with the goal of achieving 100 percent clean electric retail sales by 2045,” the office said in a statement.

Recent climate emergencies, including heatwave-induced rolling blackouts and a series of devastating wildfires, have forced some lawmakers to reconsider their plan to shut down Diablo, an effort that had been in the works since 2016.

State lawmakers in June passed a budget allocating more than $2 billion to electricity reliability, including steps to streamline permitting for clean energy projects, such as renewable energy generation and storage.

In doing so, they hoped to replace Diablo’s energy-generating capacity with other sources, including solar, wind, and battery storage.

But Diablo could be a crucial step for lawmakers in the near term: A study published by the Brattle Group earlier this summer found that by keeping Diablo online, California could decarbonize “more quickly, more reliably, and at a lower cost,” approximately $5 billion less, than if the plant shut down in 2025.

“The impacts of climate change are occurring sooner and with greater intensity and frequency than anticipated, causing unprecedented stress on California’s energy system,” according to Newsom’s draft legislation. “These impacts are simultaneously driving higher demand as more intense and frequent heat waves hit California and the Western region and reducing supply as drought conditions impact hydropower production and fires threaten electrical infrastructure.”

Still, extending Diablo is a step that must be cleared by state lawmakers, as well as California’s Department of Water Resources, which would be tasked with signing off on the $1.4 billion loan. Passing the bill will also require state lawmakers to act quickly, as both chambers must clear the legislation by Aug. 31.

The potential extension of Diablo has also sparked intense opposition from dozens of environmental and anti-nuclear groups‚ including the San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace, the Oregon Conservancy Foundation, the Snake River Alliance, and the Ohio Nuclear Free Network, which cited concerns over the plant’s age and its proximity to earthquake faults, among other things.

In a letter to Newsom earlier this year, the groups blasted the proposed extension as an “outrage.”

“Diablo Canyon is dangerous, dirty and expensive,” they wrote. “It must retire as planned.”

Asked about the effort Monday, a spokesperson for PG&E told the Washington Examiner that the utility is “committed to California’s clean energy future, and as a regulated utility, we are required to follow the energy policies of the state.”


“We understand state leaders’ discussions to potentially extend operations at DCPP are progressing,” this person added. “We are proud of the role that DCPP plays in our state, and we stand ready to support should there be a change in state policy, to help ensure grid reliability for our customers and all Californians at the lowest possible cost.”

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